Five years ago, I flew into Casablanca for the first time. I was a college junior with a couple hundred dollars in my bank account and a week’s worth of clothing in a backpack. Walking out of the airport at 11 PM, I was immediately swarmed by cab drivers, but I shook them off and picked out the one driver who hadn’t tried to push his cab on me. I gave him the name of my cheapskate, off-the-beaten-path hotel. It took him half an hour to find it, driving in circles around Casa while I sat in the seat-belt-less back seat and experienced some of the most harrowing u-turns of my life. He left the cab twice to ask for directions, but he got me there eventually and charged me two or three dollars. If he’d ripped me off, I didn’t care. I woke up in the middle of the night to the whole building shaking from an earthquake, but my ancient hotel survived and I was on a train to Marrakech the next day. It was – as Humphrey Bogart put it – the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I knew I’d be back.
Casa is not my favorite place in Morocco. If you’ve never been there, it’s probably not what you imagine. Casa is big and sprawling and grey and noisy and industrial. To me, Casa is a doorway to the rest of Morocco. But it is also Morocco’s biggest city and an important seaport and economic center, and its gritty urbanness can grow on you.
We went to Casa for a day, mostly to visit Dar America, a library and cultural center run by the American consulate. We also got to see Hassan II Mosque, one of the biggest mosques in the world– pictures below.